The unnumbing of the heart begins through the awakening of presence

By presence I mean, a comprehensive awareness that can at one time encompass our thinking, our emotions, our bodily perceptions, our behaviors. That comprehensive awareness we call presence is close to what some people call mindfulness. In that state of pure presence, when the mind can begin to become a little more quiet, the emotions a little more still, we can begin to access this deeper level of our experience, which is the heart. The heart which is an instrument for sensing existence qualitatively and realizing that we live in a universe made up of all of these incredible qualities. For instance, the qualities of awe and majesty, the qualities of tenderness and compassion, the qualities of forgiveness and generosity, the qualities of beauty of meaning.

So far, science has not successfully measured or accounted for this dimension of human experience. Yes, they can measure that the brain may react in a certain way and show a certain wave form when we are in a state of mindfulness, but it doesn’t tell us what that wave form actually is, what it feels like. The heart is also the instrument that senses value. This is incredibly important. Imagine if you were a human being living in a world, exactly as the world is through your senses, but you had no sense of value. What would life be like? What would human relationships be like? Take away the tenderness, take away the longing, take away the subtle satisfactions of friendship, of work done well, of even the satisfaction of modest integrity.

birds in nature
William Morris and John Henry Dearle’s Cock Pheasant (1916) famous textile artwork. Original from The Birmingham Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

The most important things in life are not visible and the heart operates in this invisible world

Sheikh Suleyman Dede, he was a very simple man. The very first time he came to the United States, his message for us barbarians, and we were barbarians at that time, was, let’s keep the love of God in your heart. Keep the love of Allah in your heart, and you have nothing to fear, and you will be full of energy, and you will love life. And he was a living example of that.

This is the simple message. Keep the love of God in your heart. But this is not a theology. This is not a God of any particular religion. It’s not a God in a dualistic sense of an ultimate being we have to please, or we should fear. It’s something much subtler than that. It’s something about the nature of reality, that reality itself is love. And there’s nothing more important for us to know than to know this. And the only way we’re going to truly know it is with this instrument called the heart, which has a different kind of knowing than the brain.

Somebody could repeat these words, but without the lived experience of this and they would just be talking words, and what would it matter? What would it sound like? It would sound like talk. It would just sound like theory, but it’s possible to live these truths. It’s possible to make it the very core of our experience.

So how do we do it well? There’s so much to be said about this. I almost don’t even want to begin, but I’ll come back to a few simple things and say, it begins with presence. It begins with that state in which we are whole and in the present moment and not living completely in our heads or preoccupied with desires, comforts, discomforts, and pleasures of the body, but when we are living in an awakened state.

Mindfulness opens up to heartfulness

We’re aware of our thoughts, our feelings, our sensory experience. We’re whole in this moment. That’s what we mean by presence. I wrote a book called Living Presence just to talk about presence and how presence can be cultivated. This is the first step, but presence, or mindfulness, opens up to heartfulness, or what the Sufis called remembrance of God. And remembrance of God begins to become real when we sense that our presence is related to a vast ocean of presence, and that in a way, what we’re calling our presence is sourced in something much greater.

Yes, I have consciousness. I have a little bit of love. I have, now and then, maybe a little bit of patience, not very much. I have these qualities, but these qualities are not even my own. They’re sourced in a vast infinite ocean of being. This is what we mean by the divine. This is what we mean by God. So when individual presence begins to feel this relationship with the larger, the infinite presence, then we realize this is something very important here. I need this. I need this awareness moment by moment. I need to be grateful. I need to be in a state of wonder. I need to be aware that there is a cosmic intelligence, operating in every detail of life. Life is not just an accidental concatenation of events and things randomly impacting each other, but the universe, this existence, is more like mind and information than it is things.

William Morris’s Vine (1873) famous pattern. Original from The Smithsonian Institution. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel.

But let me remind us that it’s not just information, and it’s not just quantities. It’s also a universe of qualities. From this infinite source, infinite qualities are manifesting and those qualities are all here to educate our hearts, to awaken us to the awareness of the true nature of existence, which is an existence of beauty, of generosity, of what religions call grace.

I don’t know. Am I talking nonsense? Is this is a crazy talk? Does this make any sense? This is very practical. This is lived experience. This is not something to read in a book and think about, unless the thinking brings you closer to that experience.

Rumi said the highest form of love is love with no object. We think of love at the lowest levels as desire, or we fall in love, and we want to possess the beloved. Probably, if we’re egotistical, we want to control the beloved. But there are higher levels of love that the heart knows.

Love is simply the nature of your being

Rumi says the highest form of love is love with no object. Meaning, for the human being who attains that state, love is not about possessing something, love is not love for something. Love is simply the nature of your being. And you radiate that love, and you become a blessing to your environment. You become, in a way, freer of attachments naturally, not through some arduous ascetic process of sacrifice.

I once asked one of my mentors, a Sufi in Istanbul. I asked him, “Do we ever attain a state when we no longer feel the need to receive love from others? And he said, “Yes, when you love.”

So that’s a little bit about love and the heart. I didn’t make an explicit connection between them, but obviously they’re not two things. They’re one thing. It’s through the heart that we know love. The experiences of love are the most important experiences of life. They’re what we remember, they were what we long for, and many human behaviors are substitutes for love or clumsy attempts to gain love.

But love is deep within our own hearts. Love and this love of God as we call it in religious terms, but we don’t necessarily need the religious terms. If we understand the metaphysics of it, we can say deep in our human heart, in the core of our being is a connection with the infinite, and that infinite is generous, gracious, beautiful, and it is the one. I can’t call it a thing, but let’s say it is the one reality that can truly satisfy this restless human heart.

Be aware of your breath. That’s always good. That’s a good place to begin. Add to that and experience the sensation of your body as you’re aware of your breath. Now, check in with your heart. What is the state of your heart at this moment? Try and sustain this comprehensive state of awareness in your everyday life.

The other thing that helps enormously is to be around people who have developed this presence. Presence can be deepened infinitely, but in that process of deepening, you begin to realize that it’s not just my presence.

I’m not just a developing this self-awareness that is limited to me, but it begins to reach into the universe, it begins to open into an ocean of presence, an ocean of grace, an ocean of beauty and love. That presence and all of our most important human qualities are, to use religious language, sourced in God. If you don’t like that language, you can easily substitute something else, but sourced in an infinite being sourced in an invisible dimension of reality, that while invisible, is nevertheless even in a sense, more real, more important, more precious than this three dimensional or four dimensional time-space continuum.